Here’s how to create a distressed finish in a few simple steps and many hours of impatient waiting for paint/stain to dry. This project is a simple wooden step stool that I built recently. The photos aren’t the best, since most were taken at night . Lately, all my woodworking projects have been late night adventures due to this crazy heat. Last night it was still 100 degrees outside at 9 in the evening?!
*Before you do any painting be sure that the piece is well sanded. If it was a bare wood project, you want to remove any rough edges. If the project was previously painted, you have to sand to give the new layers of paint something to hold onto.
Start with your base coat. Some recommend to prime your piece first, especially if working with bare wood, but I’ve found either option provides good results. The main difference (I’ve found) is that you have some white from the primer peek through beneath your base coat, if you sand through that layer. This tutorial is done on a piece without primer. I usually do two coats of the base color. Be sure to paint all sides, including the underneath. Let it dry completely – usually overnight. Sand lightly with 320 grit.
Now for the fun part…distressing your piece. I like to use a hammer (both ends), nails, screws, screwdrivers, keys or anything else you can find to add some character to your piece. This step can be done before you paint anything, too. Also, don’t go too crazy with your distressing. You want your piece to look well worn, but not trashed.
Now this next step can be done using a variety of mediums. I like to use polyurethane, but candle wax or soap will also do the trick. You need to apply your choice along the edges and randomly throughout the piece. Anywhere you want to make it easier to remove the topcoat when you begin the sanding process. Think of where your piece would normally show wear and apply it there. If you go with the poly, you’ll have to wait for it to dry. Give it the full drying time. With candle wax or soap, you’ll want to be careful when you paint the top coat so as not to rub off the wax/soap.
The top coat is the next step. You can do one or two coats. The thicker you apply the paint, the more work it will be to expose the bottom layer. You can see some of the dings and scrapes a little more clearly with the top coat applied. Now let it dry COMPLETELY. Your project has to be thoroughly dry before you begin to sand.
After everything is good and dry, it’s time to begin sanding. If you begin to sand and have blotchy paint left behind on your sandpaper, it’s not ready. Give it more time to dry. I use a combination of my orbital sander and good ol’ hand sanding. Some recommend to stay away from the power sanders, but I like to use a fine grit like 320 and that seems to remove it lightly without stripping down to the base in seconds. Go over the entire piece, especially your edges and anywhere that you would normally see more wear and tear. There really is no right or wrong here. Work on it until you get a look that appeals to you.
Once you are happy with your sanding, it’s time to apply a glaze. This step is optional, but will give the piece more of an aged look. Especially if you’ve sanded down to the bare wood anywhere on your piece. Be sure you wipe down the piece with cheese cloth or a lint free rag to remove all sanding dust. You can purchase actual glazing mixtures at any of the home improvement stores, but I like to use a simple homemade paint & water glaze. My usual mixture is 2 parts water to 1 part paint (usually a darker shade) and a small amount goes a long way. For a stool like this a 1/2 cup of glaze was more than enough. Start from the underneath and work your way out. Keep a wet edge while working the glaze, wiping off excess as you go. After the first application dries, repeat if you want a darker patina. See how the bare wood isn’t as prominent now…
After your glaze work has dried you can apply your first coat of sealer. It’s important to seal in all your hard work, so it won’t be destroyed once you put the piece into use. It’s always good to do at least 2 coats (light sanding in between), but 3 or more is recommended for something getting daily use like a table top or even this little stool. My daughter uses hers pretty much everywhere. The time adds up here as you have to wait many an hour between coats. The polyurethanes are available in different finishes, so you go with a more matte satin finish or something shiny like a semi-gloss.
Once all your coats of polyurethane (or whatever you choose to seal it with) are finally dry, you’re done. A project like this can be done in a weekend and most of those hours are spent waiting for paint or stain to dry not in actual labor. Have fun!!